Some Thoughts on Last Night
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Jan 20, 2010 at 12:21:49 PM EST
Last night was a surprise to many -- not in the sense that the day before it was inconceivable that a Republican could win in Massachusetts, because it was becoming increasingly evident in the waning days of the campaign that he had a serious shot at winning, but rather because Republicans have had such difficulty in federal elections in the state in recent years (notwithstanding their very real ability to win in non-federal gubernatorial elections, including every one from 1990 to 2002).
But watching Scott Brown's press conference this morning, it's easy to see why voters found him to be compelling. He, like few others, was able to appeal to all sides without firmly placing himself in either camp. Conservatives will claim him as one of their own, and his victory was no doubt significantly aided by the widespread support of an emboldened Right. Yet at the same time, Brown was not antagonistic, stating during the campaign and since that his election was not a referendum on Barack Obama, not running any ads on the topic of healthcare reform (which is understandable given the difficult position the combination of Republican opposition to reform with Brown's previous support for a similar measure put him in).
So my first thought is, it will be very interesting to see how Brown is able to maintain his balance. He did so far this morning in his press conference, projecting at once the populist sentiment that helped draw him strong supporters -- but also the conciliatory tone that made him palatable to a great number of Independent and even Democratic voters. But as difficult as this is on a rhetorical level (and I don't mean to understate its difficulty), when the votes actually start coming on tough issues and Brown will either have to assert himself as someone willing to deal (which could depress his base) or as someone unwilling to deal (which could make him unelectable come 2012), it won't be nearly as easy to appeal to everyone.
That said, while Brown's victory may not have charted a legislative path for his party, it appears to have charted an electoral one: Say enough to fire up the base, but not so much as to turn off swing voters. The folks at First Read have it right: "In fact, this serves as a bit of a warning for national Republicans: Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and now Scott Brown won not by attacking Obama, but rather by downplaying their GOP ties and riding an anti-incumbent wave. None of them went out of their way to attack Obama; the national party wants the media to believe this is a referendum on Obama, but the campaigns themselves were referendums on the political process -- whether in Washington, Richmond, Trenton, or Beacon Hill."
For the Democrats, it's clear that running as the establishment isn't going to work in 2010. Voters are in an anti-incumbent mood (see not only Jon Corzine but also Mike Bloomberg), and aren't going to be warm to coronations. What's more, running is necessary. Martha Coakley held, through the Sunday before election day, less than one-third of the events Brown did, holding 19 events after the primary compared to the 62 held by Brown. The electorate isn't going to simply hand Democrats victories. It's not going to happen. (Similarly, maligning star athletes from the city probably isn't going to woo many voters.)
But beyond that, and on to policy, my sense is that the Democrats are going to take the licks they're going to take, and that as much as legislators believe they can inoculate themselves by voting "no", if there is an anti-Democratic sentiment in 2010 there's going to be an anti-Democratic sentiment that hits just about everyone regardless of their votes. No doubt the Democrats are in a dire position. But it's hard to envision a situation in which getting less done -- particularly not passing healthcare reform, and fast -- helps the party electorally. Voters aren't clamoring for a continuation of the current situation in the country, they are clamoring for change. And change doesn't occur by sitting on one's hands.
So it should not surprise you that I'm still in the camp including Josh Marshall, Ezra Klein and a great many others who believe the best course of action for the Democrats to pass healthcare reform -- and fast -- then move on. There is simply no political upside in getting nothing done.
Those are my thoughts. What are yours?